HHS touts HIT traction as it extends MU deadline

By Diana Manos
03:05 PM

Doctors’ adoption of health information technology doubled in two years, according to a new report that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius released Tuesday. Sebelius also announced extension of the meaningful use qualification date to 2014.

To encourage faster adoption, Sebelius  announced that HHS intends to allow doctors and hospitals to adopt health IT this year, without meeting the new standards until 2014. Doctors who act quickly can also qualify for incentive payments in 2011 as well as 2012.

[Related: The good, bad, and otherwise of MU for radiologists, from RSNA.]

“When doctors and hospitals use health IT, patients get better care and we save money,” Sebelius.“We’re making great progress, but we can’t wait to do more. Too many doctors and hospitals are still using the same record-keeping technology as Hippocrates.Today, we are making it easier for healthcare providers to use new technology to improve the healthcare system for all of us and create more jobs.”

In addition to improving the healthcare system, data indicate that the national transition to health IT is creating jobs. More than 50,000 health IT-related jobs have been created since the enactment of the HITECH Act, Sebelius said.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of health IT jobs across the country is expected to increase by 20 percent from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations through 2018.

Sebelius promised greater outreach efforts that would provide more information to doctors and hospitals about best practices and to vendors whose products enable healthcare providers to meaningfully use EHRs. For example, in communities across the country HHS will target outreach, education and training to Medicare eligible professionals that have registered in the EHR incentive program but have not yet met the requirements for meaningful use. Meaningful use is the necessary foundation for all impending payment changes involving patient-centered medical homes, accountable care organizations, bundled payments, and value-based purchasing.

These efforts will complement existing outreach efforts to doctors and hospitals including the Obama Administration’s work to create a nationwide network of 62 Regional Extension Centers.  The extension centers are comprised of local nonprofits that provide guidance and resources to help eligible health care providers participate in the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs and meaningfully use health IT.

[See also: HHS aims to spur software apps development.]

Also released today, a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey found 52 percent of office-based physicians in the U.S. now intend to take advantage of the incentive payments available for doctors and hospitals through the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs. EHR incentive payments for eligible healthcare professionals can total as much as $44,000 under the Medicare EHR Incentive Program and $63,750 under the Medicaid EHR Incentive Program. The CDC data also show the percentage of physicians who have adopted basic electronic health records in their practice has doubled from 17 to 34 percent between 2008 and 2011 (with the percent of primary care doctors using this technology nearly doubling from 20 to 39 percent).

To meet the demand for workers with health IT experience and training, the Obama Administration has launched four workforce development programs that help train the new health IT workforce.  The training is provided through 82 community colleges and nine universities nationwide.  As of October 2011, community colleges have had 5,717 professionals successfully complete their training in health information technology.  Currently there are 10,065 students enrolled in the training programs across the nation.  As of November 2011, universities have graduated over 500 post-graduate and masters-level health IT professionals, with over 1700 expected to graduate by July 2013.